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Bishop Marc Andrus Addresses the Climate Action Assembly II

Bishop Marc Andrus addresses the Climate Action Assembly II at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good morning, I’d like to offer gratitude first to all that we’ve been given this morning as way of sustenance, the drumming, the prayers of a grandfather and the grandfather’s words, the chanting from the Quran, David Hale’s intelligence and passion, the prayers of the people, prayers for the conversion of people’s hearts like mine. I’m deeply grateful. I know you are too.

When we consider the defense of freedom and human rights in the arena of climate and environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, we are entering into a struggle that we know is of a planetary scale. And so it is right that we are hearing more and more about climate grief, about ecocide, about hospice for the earth, people speaking of paralysis that they are overwhelmed and do not know where to go and how to turn.

Despite the fact that I can witness the abundance of climate action being carried out by faith people all over the earth, and I only know a fraction of it, I do also know that those hopeful people and those who do not have hope are all feeling the enormity of the struggle.

And so today I do not call you to specific action but I simply come to offer three areas of hope, of aid, of help in the struggle. For there is a way to come out of the paralysis, and it is right to feel the paralysis, to lament because the world is so beautiful.

The life of the world is so precious that if we did not lament it, we would not be human, but we must move beyond it.

So the three areas of help are these. We need training in nonviolence. The great civil rights and peace movements of the 20th century were all undertaken with skill by people who undertook training, who trained each other, who trained themselves. In fact, it is a strategy of those who would overcome us to have us believe otherwise, that we can just go into the struggle unprepared. 

You know the story of Rosa Parks, but it’s worth telling. In that struggle for rights, it has often been said that Rosa Parks was simply tired at the end of the day and that stubbornly she would not relinquish her seat on the front of the bus for a white man. This could not be further from the truth. The truth was that she and others had gone to the Highlander Center for nonviolent training for months in the mountains of Tennessee before she came back to Montgomery. And so it was that she had carefully prepared with her coworkers, even to the choice of who should sit on the bus and not stand.

It didn’t have to be Rosa. All of that was planned, and to think otherwise is for us to court failure. Have you ever wondered why we have arms races? We have arms races beginning in the period of the medieval between people who had short bows and those who invented longbows, and then there had to be an answer to that all the way up to this very moment.

We have arms races because people figure out how to overcome the innovations of people on the other side. And I have to say that in our preparation for nonviolence, we must evolve our methods. The methods of yesterday, the great methods of yesterday are not outworn, but they must evolve. The wonderful writer, Arundhati Roy, has said that the big dam builders and the power brokers of India have figured out that they can safely ignore hunger strikes. And they can just simply watch activists starve themselves to death with impunity. So our methods must also evolve, but we must not give in. We must not give in to being mistaken that taking on the tools of our oppressors will work instead.

And that leads me to the second area of help for you and help for me. And that is our movement must be a movement of prayer. At least it is for me. me. The idea that we can only draw on our skills, our oratory, our organizing, our analysis, our policy-making, our protest, all of those we should do, we must do, but they’re not enough. That is swimming in the shallow part of the ocean. Instead, we must resort to the divine who is always, always available to help us. In the Psalms, it says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” “Our closer to our own time,” Audre Lorde wrote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We must resort to overflowing love, divine love that motivates, creates, and sustains the universe, and never consider another person our enemy. There are many ways to pray, probably as many ways to pray as there are peoples of the earth. 

But here is what Thich Nhat Hanh taught me. It only takes a fraction of a moment to turn to the ultimate, and the ultimate will be there. Or as it says in my scriptures, “Not a sparrow falls to the earth apart from God.” God. God is with you and with me and with all of life on earth, and it is for me to turn to God for the help that I need.” And finally, we are being helped by the luminous beings of love who have come before us. In Christianity, they are called saints. In Buddhism, they are called the bodhisattvas. But across the world, people have experience, not just believe, but experience, that people of extraordinary love never give up their love for the world. They continue to stay connected to you in your struggle for justice and for peace and for the increase of love.

The great Quaker, current day, anti-nuclear peace activist, David Hartsough, told me this story. Just a few years after Martin Luther King was assassinated, David was in Switzerland, and he was feeling despondent in the face of the struggle. He sat on a bench facing into the Alps, looking at the beautiful mountains, the flowers, the grasses, seeking some peace, seeking some strength. And suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder and a voice that he knew was Martin’s. And it said, “David, I know that you are struggling, and it seems that you cannot go on. But I promise you, I will always be with you.” 

In 2014, the great venerable Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, said this just a few months before the massive stroke that robbed him of speech and of motion, but not of activity. He said, “The day that Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was devastated. I could not eat. I could not sleep. And I made a deep vow to continue what Martin called the beloved community. And I believe I have kept that vow to this day, and I have always felt his support.” I asked myself many questions about what Thich said in that statement. But prominent among them was the question, “What did he mean? I have always felt his support.” 

It could be that he read the works of Dr. King and was inspired again by them, or he recalled to memory the times they corresponded and the times they met, and that helped him. All that, I believe, is true. But by carefully researching it, I came to believe he meant more than that. He meant that non-corporally, beyond a body, that Martin’s love continued to bind him to the struggle for justice and for peace, and that Thich Nhat Hanh himself, an embodiment, an avatar of love, could see that and could feel that. Those great Lumis beings trail behind you and indeed encircle and envelop the earth. Deschardin called it the noosphere, a glowing sphere of love that covers the Earth and is ready to help you and to help me.

Just before we gathered this morning, a person I admire, a great deal, Karenna Gore and I were talking, you’re gonna hear from her in a moment, and she said that a Dominican nun told her years ago that Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, all these people, they’re here ready to help us, but we need to organize them. I love that.

Ask for their help. Pray to God. Get nonviolent training. We shall overcome.

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